1957-Sputnik.pdf - 1957 By Gerard J DeGroot 34\\MER1CAN HISTORY DECEMBER 2007 ack in October 1957 Little Richard was doing a concert tour in Australia

1957-Sputnik.pdf - 1957 By Gerard J DeGroot 34MER1CAN...

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1957 By Gerard J, DeGroot 34 .\MER1CAN HISTORY DECEMBER 2007
ack in October 1957, Little Richard was doing a concert tour in Australia. While performing on the Sydney quayside, he claimed he sighted Sputnik, launched a few days earlier, passing overhead. For tbe singer, the satellite was proof positive that the end of the world was nigh. "We're all going to die," he muttered. To the astonishment of his adoring fans, he stripped off his expensive jewelry and threw it into the harbor. He then marched off the stage, renounced rock and roll and declared that he would ask God for guidance. After much persuasion, he agreed to continue his tour, but refused to play rock. Instead of "Long Tall Sally," audiences were treated to melancholic gospel songs and long passages from the Bible, read with portentous solemnity. Little Richard's reaction seems bizarre, but only when viewed trom the vantage point of 50 years later. At the time, his behavior was simply one manifestation of a widespread tendency among Americans to panic. Thanks to comic books and science fiction films, many had come to believe that nothing nice exists in outer space. Sputnik meant that these fears were suddenly grafted onto latent anti-Communist paranoia. America's concerns about Communist infiltration had always been tempered by an assumption of technological superiorit}'. Sputnik destroyed that. Whereas before outer space monsters had implied green, lizard-tongued aliens armed with death rays, the new fiends were fiir-coated, vodka-drinking Russians. Granted, not everyone panicked, or at least not immediately. Rocket enthusiasts of all ages put aside Cold War suspicions to celebrate a magnificent technological feat. Equally excited were American entrepreneurs who immediately looked for ways to turn space age wizardry into cold, hard cash. Within days, one confectioner came out with a Sputnik lollipop. Restaurants served Sputnik doughnuts and Sputnik burgers—the latter with an orbiting pickle suspended on a toothpick. In anticipation of Christmas, a toy manufacturer took an ordinary scooter and called it a "pednik." One clever designer came up with a spherical container that held ice cream. One antenna went into a Coke bottle and the otber served as a straw. Presto, a Sputnik ice cream float. There was also a Sputnik lamp and a fly killer shaped like the satellite, not to mention the inevitable Sputnik dance and hairstyle, both suitably otherworldly. All those clever marketing spin-offs were an attempt to ward off the demons of despair— rather like whistling in a graveyard. Ice cream floats and Sputnik burgers could not, however, erase feelings of inferiority and fear. Americans struggled to make sense of the space age, and especially ofthe fact that the Russians had inaugurated it. The Soviets, after all, were not sup- posed to be good at technology.

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